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Having the Best Band You Can Get! (Arlen Roth and the One and Onlys)

I have recently been playing some gigs this summer with my favorite bunch of players, and I really consider this the best overall band I’ve ever had! The drummer is Shannon Ford, who played many years with Danny Gatton, Roger Miller, The Gatlin Brothers, and countless others. He’s played with me off and on for 15 years, and always been my #1 call! Now that his wife, the great actress, Alice Ripley, has won the Tony Award for “Best Actress in a Musical” for her play, Next to Normal, I figure he’ll be sticking around for awhile in the NY area, so I can count on getting him!

The Bassist is the great John Previti, who has also been with me for at least 10 years, and who played so long with Danny Gatton, he was practically still a kid when he started with him! Last but not least is young Matt Rae, and great guitarist in his own right, who started by taking lessons with me over 12 years ago. I mentored him, and eventually brought him into the band, and helped him with many of his own songs and solo cds as well.

It makes such an incredible difference when you know you have the kind of players you can trust with your music, whether it be live or in the studio, and this group is a band of consummate pros, who know just what I want! Nothing like being a band leader, and barely ever having to tell anyone anything! Occasionally, there’s a little “nudge” I may have to give someone, just so they know what’s on my mind, but other than that, trust is really the most essential thing. It can take time, but I believe if you get the right combination of great players, and if you can spend time doing some musical and personal “growing” together, you’ll really have a combo that you can be truly be happy with, and proud of! I know that I certainly am!

Posted: 8/24/2009 11:14:50 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Those Blue Guitars!

This is a great memory of a day when I, along with many other guitar folks, were invited to the “coming out” party of the late, great collector, Scott Chinery’s commissioned “Blue Guitars”down in Tom’s River, NJ. It really was more of a celebration of his entire guitar collection, which was incredibly diverse, as well as world-class, and out of that day came this legendary photo of me, Scotty Moore, Tal Farlow, Jack Wilkins, Jimmy Vivino, G.E. Smith, Lou Pallo (from Les Paul’s band) and Steve Howe, from Yes.

Quite a gathering, especially when you consider that while this photo was taken, the great Johnny Winter was performing outside by the pool, and nobody was there watching! I was always very proud that I somehow ended up holding the big Gibson, as I was sitting next to so many Jazz and Rock giants who always made Gibson their guitar of choice. All I can say is that Scotty and Tal were certainly very gracious, as they were happy to let me be the holder of it. It also, to me, was the nicest guitar there, and it just also felt really great to play!

There were some nice representations of other archtop makers, such as D’Angelico, Triggs and Benedetto, but the Gibson had the “flash” to be able to pull off being painted that shade of blue. All of this of course, while I was knowing all along that I detested blue on guitars! If it were me, I would’ve commissioned the “red guitars” or even the “green guitars” but never blue! But otherwise, this truly was a legendary day in guitar history, and one I was certainly honored to be asked to be a part of! Talk about a “photo op”!

Posted: 8/21/2009 10:11:42 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Looking for the Best in a Player

It’s always been quite easy for me to be highly critical of other guitar players, and I must admit, even the best of songs or records can be totally ruined for me by below par guitar playing! But still, when I am very much in the act of teaching or evaluating a player, I have rally developed a knack for simply always looking for the best that a player has to offer.

What is unique about the guitar player’s style, their tone, their musical viewpoint? All of this can be taken into account, even if someone is still very much a beginner, or a struggling player. I always look for something in their playing that I can “hang my hat on”, especially when looking for a good “jumping off” point for them to continue their learning. What this also means is that their unique abilities can be “built” upon, and I have observed what it is about them that makes them “tick”.

All guitarists have their own point of view, and it’s amazing the variety that can be observed. I can remember once sitting down in a music store and playing, something I frequently like to do, and the guy behind the counter simply exclaiming, “there is NO way a guitar can be played like that!” What he really meant was that he had never heard anyone play with my particular perspective on the instrument, which told me that he had really never explored much interesting guitar playing in his own style and life.

It’s also a great lesson to learn as a teacher, and I’m sure many of you who follow my stuff are guitar teachers who see many students. Obviously, we always want to correct what might be blatantly wrong with someone’s style or technique, but beware of doing too much tampering with a good thing…..rather, I’d always want to listen for the good in someone’s playing, and try to build on that. Believe me, that student will always be thankful for that, as well as feeling eternally Encouraged, rather than forever DIScouraged!

Posted: 8/20/2009 7:46:49 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

More Reflections on Les

The loss of Les Paul cannot ever be measured, yet so are his accomplishments and life lessons to be learned. This was a man who seemed to never stop his creative and inquisitive drive right to the end, and this is what truly kept him young and so alive. I remember when I first got to perform with him, I felt like I was playing with some kid who had just discovered the guitar, and was so happy to be making music with it! His passion and playfulness was truly to be admired, and it was infectious, as everyone around him just couldn’t help but have big grins on their faces!

He was also quite serious about all that he did, and there was no question, a real “all business” approach he sometimes took when push came to shove. I can recall one time, when he and I, and many others such as Albert Lee and James Burton, played at a Danny Gatton tribute concert, and Les and I were asked to go downstairs to conduct a fairly long interview about Danny, and the guitar in general. Well, Les’ presence there was not even expected, and was basically only “rumored”, until I hit the stage with Albert Lee, and the audience parted like the Red Sea to let Les Paul through! So, the interview was a total “scoop” for the reporter, who wasn’t even really prepared. So, there Les and I sat, in this basement room, waiting and waiting, and then he pulled out a banana and started eating it…”nice, you’re getting your potassium” said the reporter, as we were still waiting and waiting…….”yes”, said Les….then suddenly blurting out ‘ARE WE GONNA DO AN INTERVIEW HERE OR ARE WE NOT!?” Well, needless to say, after that, things clicked into gear pretty quickly to say the least, and then Les and I proceeded to talk on camera for nearly an hour! What an amazing and memorable experience!

Posted: 8/17/2009 6:36:46 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Goodbye Old, Dear Friend!

What can one possibly say, or where can one begin when it comes to describe the greatness that will forever be Les Paul?! I can’t even remember exactly what it was that first connected us as friends, as it was so long ago, but I can tell you that when I got my ’52 gold top Les Paul guitar in 1967, right at the start of the vintage guitar boom, I had no idea who Les Paul was. I was just 15 years old, and I can tell you that that was the first time I really understood what it was to hold and play a truly great instrument.

Les and I got to perform together at the Danny Gatton tribute concerts at Tramps in NYC in 1994, as Danny was connected to and loved by both Les and I. I still have tons of footage of that concert, including a rare, and never seen interview of me and Les that was conducted downstairs from the club that same night. Later on, after that, Les had me play at his 87th Birthday party at I guess what was Fat Tuesday’s at the time, before he switched his weekly gig to the Iridium. That was a thrill, as I got to also play with my buddies Jeff Beck and Cornell Dupree that night in honor of Les.

I can recall going up onstage and telling the story of what had actually happened to me the night before….I went to South Bend, Indiana to visit an elderly man whose family had just sold me his old 1950 Buick Roadmaster woodie wagon, but who also told me that he used to play many years ago, and that under his bed was a 1951 SJ 200 jumbo acoustic that he had bought new from the factory in ’51! So, there it was, still under the bed after all those years, and I negotiated a deal, and bought the guitar. As I was leaving, after a nice time with the old chap, I mentioned that I was going to play at Les’ birthday party the next night. Well, as if on cue, he then said, you mean ol’ “Rhubarb Red?”….man, we used to play with him all the time around Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin!

Man, I just couldn’t believe my ears, because here I was, buying a car and a guitar from a guy who was an old-time contemporary of Les’ from the REALLY old days of his career. Well, I got to tell this story from the stage to Les and all the other great folks who were gathered, including one of my heroes, Soupy Sales! I also remember being shocked that my Les Paul was the only vintage one in the joint!

Les and I went on to have many great phone chats after that, talking old cars, guitars, and any other subject that would pop into out crazy heads. He was a one of a kind; funny, biting wit, always a gentleman, and the last of an American true tradition of people from a certain era who questioned and re-invented everything. Sometimes I thought he liked to talk so long on the phone because he was fascinated with how the darn thing worked!

Hey, if he were born some years earlier, he probably would’ve invented that too, along with the phonograph and the light bulb, to boot! Goodbye old friend, you sure made your mark forever, but you already knew that, thanks to all the love you were always showered with. But all you ever really wanted to do was to keep playing, and to have a good time. Time to hoist a good Wisconsin-made beer to you, like you always loved to drink, and truly say that the world was never the same because of you, and never will be the same without you. To anyone who plays the electric guitar, remember, Les Paul was your Father.      

Posted: 8/14/2009 10:55:26 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

More on Woodstock Anniversary #1

As I stated to talk about in my last Blog, I had played the very first Woodstock concert revival and anniversary with my band at the time, “Steel.” Steel consisted of my friend and college roommate, Sandy Berman on keyboards (and played bass with his left hand), Roy Faber on drums, and myself. We certainly liked to play some stuff loud, but we were by no means a typical “power” trio. We did mostly original songs that I penned while being laid up for a 6 month period as the result of getting a bad case of mono at my college.

Two of those songs, “The Upstate Rag”, and “Angry River” are still played by me these days, and “Angry River”, though I wrote it at the age of 16, waited for my daughter, Lexie Roth to record it for her debut cd, “One Long Blink”. There is a lovely video for this song on YouTube.

The “Upstate Rag” is quite the extravaganza, and back in those Woodstock days, we used to let this song go on for sometimes 20 minutes, as I would stretch the middle “solo” section into such a long improvisation, it would actually include references to many other songs along the way!

This kind of extended soloing was quite in vogue in those days, and I guess it’s kind of returned these days in a “retro” sort of way with all these so-called “Jam Bands”. These days, I have that song pared down to about 7 minutes, and also love doing an acoustic version as well.

Regardless, it’s great fun to bring back those unique times, when the pace of life was quite a bit slower, and folks had seemingly endless time to listen to long songs, long solos, and couls sit and read long liner notes on those beautiful and artistic album covers of the day!

Posted: 8/12/2009 10:42:19 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Playing the First Woodstock Anniversary!

With the coming soon of the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock concerts in upstate NY, it is really starting to stir up many memories for me.

Almost every summer of my life, I lived in the upstate town of Bethel, NY, which is where Yasgur’s Farm, and the Woodstock festival of 1969 was held. I was 16 when it happened, and I went back and forth to the site many times, since we were only about 1 mile away. It was a true disaster area that has certainly mellowed with memories, because believe me, when it was rally happening, it was NOT so pleasant and idyllic as so many people make it out to be!

Still, it was cool, and I must’ve had 40 campers all staying on our front lawn, with my Mom providing food for them, and I recall that some of them traveled from as far away as Texas by car! I could literally tell who was playing just by listening to the sound drift over the lake to my front porch, and can clearly recall hearing when Hendrix was on, which was the absolute end of the festival!

The following year, as a celebration of the first anniversary, my band, Steel, got a flatbed, a sound system, a tape recorder, and set up at the site, where some 40,000 folks had also assembled to remember the first anniversary of the Woodstock festival. I always joke that those must’ve been the only folks who actually remembered where they really were that previous summer of ’69!

Well, it really was something, and my band must’ve performed for nearly 8 hours, as we were the only music there. I recently was able to be given the tape of that concert, and you can imagine the poor condition it’s in! But who knows…with today’s digital technology, we may just be able to bring that tape, and all the fabulous memories back to life, so we can again share them with the world!

Posted: 8/10/2009 7:25:29 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

More on Song Collaboration

There have been many songs I have collaborated on as a write…some I got credit for, and just as many where I didn’t get any credit! Heck, there were WHOLE songs and pieces I never got credit for, as in the film, “Crossroads”, but that’s for another time and place for me to talk about!

As far as the whole collaboration process goes, you never really know how it will all “fall together”, but as long as the outcome is pretty much what you wanted, and are happy with, then the whole process was worth it. I have written with folks under some of the funniest circumstances. For example, this month, my old friend and musical partner in crime, Kate Taylor came out with a wonderful new cd, called “Fair Time”. To my surprise, she put on there a very personal song I wrote the music for, when she had already had the lyrics. The funny part of the collaboration was that she showed me the song at her dining table, and while she received a phone call, I started setting myself to writing some music to the words.

Well, needless to say, when the phone call was done, so was the song, because it just so easily seemed to fall into place. So much so, that at first I had to doubt myself, thinking “this couldn’t be”…..I couldn’t come up with the “right stuff” that quickly. In the end though, it was right, because Kate loved it, and it worked so well with what she wanted to say, and how she wanted to deliver the tune.

This is also a very important factor in songwriting if you can know who’s going to sing it, because if you feel like you really know that person who is going to sing it, and what their relationship is to the lyrics, you can more easily “find” the music, or shall we say, let the music find YOU!

Either way, song collaboration is a great process, and it’s one that everybody comes away from knowing just a little more! I love doing it, and I hope it’s something you’ll get into someday, if you haven’t already!

Posted: 8/7/2009 9:40:43 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

The Art of Soloing

A couple of years back, I had to create a video about The Art of Soloing for Hot Licks, which used to be my company for 25 years. I realized that when I embarked upon this idea, it was really a chance to delve into “teaching the unteachable.” This is because the ideas we are talking about are so subjective, and abstract…and who’s to say what is right or wrong when taking a solo? After all, we each have our own way of looking at things, and melodically, we definitely have our own unique ideas.

I suddenly realized that the “Art of Soloing” entails literally anything and everything! So what do I teach to teach soloing…ANYTHING! Because it all applies…I mean, why, for example, is my best solo usually my first take on a song? Because I have the tools and experience to react purely emotionally, where the thought process behind the notes is at a one-to-one clip. It feels as if there are no thoughts going on, only feelings, and this is when we are really playing at our highest and purest level of creativity.

So, in essence, when you are taking my Gibson lessons with me online, even though many are very short, the ideas presented should always be thought of as something that can be applied to your creative “arsenal”, which you can always call upon during key soloing situations, Obviously, I am assuming an awful lot here that you still may not know, but the essence of the solo, and the concepts behind it are the most important things.

I will be writing more about this very important subject in coming blogs, as we explore these concepts even further. Till then, see you next time, and keep on playing!

Posted: 8/5/2009 8:07:24 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

"Sitting in with Students" Update!

Well, last blog, I told you about how I was about to sit in at this club and play with this wonderful old student of mine who really loves to play neo-classical shred guitar, but that I was going to introduce him to a brilliant 18-year old new student who was here for a week of lessons with me.

Well, all seemed to be going well…we went to the club, had some dinner and drinks, etc., and then it was going to be time for the music, and boy, the place was really starting to fill up! Anyway, as soon as we were getting ready to play, the owner/manager of the joint told us he was too young, and that he had to leave not only the club area, but the entire building/premises! I mean, what is a young phenom to do? What if he were 9 years old, would he not be able to have this forum in which he could bring his immense talent to the forefront?! Also, his Mom was there with him, as was I, and there was no guarantee he was going to even play…he just wanted to watch!

Well it was fairly frustrating, for him especially, and I felt bad, because I wanted his week to end on that bright note, but I still got to jump up onstage and blow the room away with “Superstition”. It’s always hard to hit the stage roaring, and to have to go from 0-60 in what seems to be one second flat, but I managed, and it was great fun! Like I said before…I love to sit in, especially when it involves helping someone else to have a better experience!

Posted: 8/3/2009 10:53:11 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
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